Levon Helm: Still Keening After All These Years

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Monday's Pick

  • Song: "Stuff You Gotta Watch"
  • Artist: Levon Helm
  • CD: Electric Dirt
  • Genre: Folk-Rock

When Levon Helm was a young man singing with The Band, just about every critic used two adjectives to describe his voice: "lyrical" and "keening." His clear tenor could build beautiful melody lines, and it had an appealing pungency at its high end.

Levon Helm 300

Muddy Waters' "Stuff You Gotta Watch" is a good match for Levon Helm's roughed-up tenor. courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption courtesy of the artist

After being zapped by radiation during a 1990s bout with throat cancer, Helm's vocal cords have accumulated a few dings and crags. Plus, they're 69 years old. But they haven't retired, as evidenced by Electric Dirt, his follow-up to the Grammy-winning Dirt Farmer.

On Electric Dirt, "Stuff You Gotta Watch" is a good match for Helm's roughed-up tenor. An upbeat Muddy Waters blues song, the tongue-in-cheek "Stuff" offers a warning for guys who date bad women — the kind who'll "spend your dough and drink your gin." Setting the pace with his rollicking drums and accompanied by a down-home accordion, Helm brings swagger and verve to the song. A listener can hear how happy he is, after all he's been through, to open his mouth and keen.

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Levon Helm. courtesy of the artist hide caption

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